Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking

People often ask me what critics I read, if any. Of course,
I’m not typical; I don’t consult reviews to help me decide whether or not to
see a film. In most cases, I read reviews after I’ve already screened the
picture in question. I’m interested in having a critic point out things I may
have overlooked or illuminate aspects of the film I didn’t appreciate. Mostly,
I’m interested in good writing, and this is where Peter Rainer excels.
Currently reviewing for the Christian
Science Monitor,
his byline has appeared in many top publications  over the years. He’s just collected essays
spanning some thirty years in a valuable book called Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and
Transformative Era
(Santa Monica Press) and I’ve enjoyed browsing through
them. 

Rainer is articulate and amusing, often laugh-out-loud
funny. Perhaps I relate to him because we have similar backgrounds. He grew up
in the New York City area watching Million
Dollar Movie
on TV and became a habitué of Manhattan’s treasured revival
theaters. His first reviews were published in his college newspaper, and as he
notes, “There was a marvelous urgency to all this, and my experience was not
atypical. The big reason so many movie critics came out of my generation is
that we all passed through the same ether.”

I also relate to this thought: “Years ago, when Hollywood
churned out nonstop slews of teen pix—or was this only yesterday?—I questioned
whether I was in the right profession. I questioned the movie medium itself.
Where were the movies with the richness of, say, great novels? It was important
for me to know that movies could be great in that way. If the essence of what I
was writing about was, even from a purely entertainment level, negligible, then
why bother? Then a friend said to me, ‘What about the films of Satyajit Ray?’
He could have named a dozen others, but I was already off and running, jolted
back to sanity.”

Fortunately, Peter stuck to his guns. With this compilation
of reviews and essays, he encourages us to revisit the highs and lows of the
past thirty years—from the emergence of Curtis Hanson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and
Spike Jonze to the quixotic careers of Marlon Brando and even Eddie Murphy. He
devotes one chapter to films that are either overrated (Fight Club, Good Will Hunting) or underseen (Joe Gould’s Secret, A Cry in the Dark). It’s a trip down memory
lane for anyone who’s followed movies and movie trends since the 1970s.

A friend of mine says the only thing better than watching
movies is talking about them. I would apply the same truism to reading a good
review or essay by someone as savvy as Peter Rainer.

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